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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 10, 2011 10:16pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Ives Touch, Part II

Ah....I knew this would be up your alley; you probably could have written this one! I know I left out a lot. This was an attempt to go outside my range a bit. I know not many people will be interested in this one; but at least it's out there for future reference...

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 11, 2011 7:09am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Ives Touch, Part II

I'll try to offer a few random comments as I read through your post again (for about the fourth time now, it's that good!)

One of the things that makes Ives so interesting as an "innovator" is that he was really off in his own corner of the musical universe. It wasn't like he was in Paris hob-nobbing with the avant-garde cafe society, he was mostly writing "for himself" due to the challenge of getting his music performed. There was also, at one point, a bit of controversy about the chronology of various innovations. Ives, like many composers, often revised earlier compositions years later, so it can be difficult to put a precise date on when he first made use of a given musical technique. There is a fun anecdote about Ives which might be apocryphal: he was at a performance which included music by another adventurous composer (Ruggles) and when the audience was booing, Ives shouted at them to shut up and listen because the dissonance was good, strong, and manly! A lot of people though say that Ives was far too quiet and reserved to do something like that publicly.

The simultaneous intermingling of diverse elements and thematic references is what Ives is most remembered for, and I think it is absolutely right to hear the Grateful Dead's free use of rock, folk, jazz, blues, classical, everything, as a continuation of that concept. Juxtaposing contrasting genres within a single piece of music is almost commonplace now, but Ives was "sampling" a long time before hiphop.

"Anthem of the Sun" is definitely the most Lesh-controlled and Ives-influenced of the band's albums - and I think it is frustrating that Anthem is so disappointing in comparison to its source material. The band's live shows in late 67 and early 68 are so amazing, but Anthem's attempt to combine them in the studio drains the music of the impact it originally possessed. Anthem seems to me like an example of the brain ignoring the ears - couldn't they hear how amazing the core live recordings were in comparison to the diffuse sound of the album?

I think your observation about "Viola Lee Blues" is right on - it is definitely the "ur-jam song" where they tried to combine absolutely everything they knew or could imagine. It is very symbolic that their arrangement began with a full 12-tone simultaneity, a literal example of everything superimposed on top of everything. I sometimes think of VLB as the Big Bang at the origin of the GD's distinctive musical universe.

The moments when Lesh seems to "go berserk" and cranks up his bass incredibly loud and more or less overpowers the band single-handedly are always some of my personal favorites. 72-73 seem to have the highest density of outbreaks of Leshmania, often near the end of Dark Star.

Music linked to a particular place or historical event is a theme of Ives, but "program music" was also fairly common earlier in the 19th century. Sometimes composers would make use of a "secret program" where they would have a particular story in mind while composing, but they wouldn't necessarily reveal what it was!

My final comment is that while I enjoy Ives quite a bit, I don't end up listening to him all that much - and this is largely because the Grateful Dead do a good job satiating my thirst for dissonant music incorporating distinctively American elements. My non-GD listening time usually goes in the direction of classical music without a strongly dissonant or experimental aspect.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 11, 2011 10:36am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Ives Touch, Part II

I'm glad you find some value in the essay!

That's kind of a typical Ives story... He did see dissonance as being strong & manly, and considered "pretty" music to be effeminate stuff for sissies. He had quite the macho passion for music, really, and had lots of complaints about people who only wanted to coddle their ears. I think he did say, "Use your ears like men!" at one performance.

Ives was pretty much thought of as a crank at the time (by those who even knew he composed), and how much he even knew about the European innovations when he wrote a piece is in question. He had a habit of revising pieces endlessly; later in life when he became more well-known & "respectable" and had heard newer material from Europe, he'd keep tinkering with his older pieces, adding dissonances! So there is much dispute about the timeline of a lot of things; but little about how innovative he was in general.
There's a very amusing story (of debatable accuracy) that when Ives wrote a song in which he appears to have used the 12-tone method several years before Schoenberg discovered it, he said, "It’s too easy, any high school student could do it..."

You're hearing Anthem in a different way than the Dead did... Lesh & Garcia were at the controls, and they said many times it was a 'concept piece', representing an altered state of consciousness, not an attempt to straightforwardly present their music.
When they heard the tapes of the unaltered live shows that we love so much, they were disappointed! (Garcia & Lesh at least tended to just hear what was wrong with the playing.) It was natural to them to cut-up & overdub shows... (Indeed, the surprise is that they didn't do that for Live/Dead, as they did on most of the others up to Dead Set.)
The Dead's disappointment with Anthem mainly came from technical things, like the muffled sound, or that it didn't match what they heard in their heads. Garcia said later, "There's parts of it that sound dated, but parts of it are far-out, even too far-out... I think of it in terms of something we were trying to do but didn't succeed in doing... On one level it's successful, in terms of the form & structure - but in terms of the way in the individual things are performed, it's a drag."

Ives did offer essays about the "story" he was representing in the music, and people ever since have used those as the standard themes by which the music is interpreted. I guess that's common in the classical field, but it seems like cheating to me. It's like the Dead offering a program for Dark Star about what the 'storyline' of the music is....well, in a way, that's a bad example since the lyrics do that of course, so maybe a better example would be Playing in the Band or Alligator or Viola Lee, where the jam has no connection with the lyrics, and no 'interpretation' you're supposed to pick up on...

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 11, 2011 11:46am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Ives Touch, Part II

The debate over whether instrumental music should be thought of as "purely abstract" and narrative or illustrative music is on a lower plane is one of the standard debates in the aesthetics of classical music. Conventional wisdom is that music like Beethoven's string quartets is "more pure" than narrative music like Liszt's tone poems. Sometimes composers would write the music without thinking of a program, then try to tack one on later. Mahler went back and forth, sometimes offering titles and programs for his symphonies, sometimes disavowing what he had said previously.

Of course Anthem is great in an absolute sense, it is certainly the most successful of any of the band's "studio" albums at capturing the essence of the Grateful Dead, even though it isn't really a studio album! The problem is that we can now compare it with the live performances that are used as the source material, and basically Anthem is at its best when there is a single, non-manipulated live recording playing. All of the layering, cross-fading, and studio-recorded material doesn't end up adding anything positive (with the semi-exception of TC's prepared piano bit) to my ear, it just muddies up the sound and musical continuity.

I mean, if you compare 2/14/68 to "Anthem of the Sun" there is really no comparison, the straight live performance just blows Anthem completely out of the water. If the calamity of losing all the recordings from that era had happened, Anthem would be invaluable for how it captures pieces of multiple performances, and it is still important for its place in the history of the band, but I still think it represents somewhat of a squandered opportunity.

To me, it is an example of the band underestimating just how successful their live performances already were - Phil really had the idea of Ivesian hypermusic in mind, and the idea of taking multiple performances and combining them is certainly exciting conceptually, but when I listen, it doesn't have the exciting kaleidoscopic effect that I know was intended. The idea of multiple versions of the band all starting in synchrony and then starting to diverge from each other is a great idea, but I don't think its really successful when embodied in sound - the same might be said of a lot of 20th century musical experiments!

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 11, 2011 12:45pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Ives Touch, Part II

Yeah...
But it's not like, after spending months in the studio mixing it, they would say, "oops, that didn't work," throw it out & start over! They did it the hardest technical way possible, and were probably quite thrilled with their radical concept at the time...if the album is kind of blurry & muddled, the band themselves were too... If Lesh was thinking of Ivesian hypermusic, Garcia was probably thinking, "Let's make it like a hallucination and get it all spacy & weird!"
(It might be worth comparing with other albums coming out in '68 too...Jefferson Airplane's Bathing at Baxter's came out while the Dead were doing Anthem, for instance.)

The Dead had plenty of opportunity in '68 to just release a straight live album, and the record company would've been happy to do that....but rather than consider that, the band just bickered over who in the band wasn't playing well enough!
We're fortunate that by '69 they were financially desperate enough to release Live/Dead, thanks to all those months in the studio tinkering with Anthem & Aoxomoxoa...

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Aug 11, 2011 8:48am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Ives Touch, Part II

I actually think Anthem was a huge success! I haven’t heard it in years, but I’m basing that on how it impacted me when I first heard it, when there really weren’t live 60s recordings in circulation – certainly nothing remotely like what we have now. So in my book, whatever it may sound like in retrospect and however it may compare to the intent or its sources, it really did succeed at conveying something crucial about the GD sound and feel at its most psychedelic, experimental and offbeat.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 11, 2011 12:19pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Ives Touch, Part II

I also think Anthem is the best Dead studio album.... Ironically, since not much of the playing is "studio"!
But I think it conveys the essence of Dead-ness more than any later studio stuff... I know others prefer the more 'straight pop' albums of 1970 or later; but they fall flat for me, knowing what live shows sounded like. You might say live Dead ruined me for album Dead!

Garcia himself liked Aoxomoxoa more for what the Dead achieved, strangely...though I thought he kind of slaughtered it in the remix.
He also thought Mars Hotel was the Dead's best studio album.

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Aug 10, 2011 11:09pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Ives Touch, Part II

I think it's super interesting. There's a lot there to think about, and some new angles on things, for me, anyway. I'm really attracted to the whole found-object sensibility and the experimental/avante-garde mode of questioning expectations for art in the early 20th century (when avante garde had meaning); but I'm not really keyed into how it manifested in classical music -- I think I get put off by the "high art" classification.

One of the hard things with Ives has to be that, in using found sound, the meaning has changed ... if we hear, say, a hymn tune or Yankee Doodle now, we just don't hear it as something from popular culture/a streetscape/presentness. It's become congealed a bit as The Past, and a somewhat stereotyped version of The Past, too, so it can seem simply quaint. It's interesting to try to get past that, though, and see/hear in context. Of course that's true of all art/music.

I hadn't thought of MIDI in terms of just plain fun and the band just entertaining themselves with the humor of it. I like that. Don't care for the MIDI sound, but I may hear it somewhat differently with that in mind as one of the aspects.



This post was modified by AltheaRose on 2011-08-11 06:09:04

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 11, 2011 6:26am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: High Art

>I'm really attracted to the whole found-object sensibility and the experimental/avante-garde mode of questioning expectations for art in the early 20th century (when avante garde had meaning); but I'm not really keyed into how it manifested in classical music -- I think I get put off by the "high art" classification.

The bizarre sociocultural status of "classical" music has been, quite literally, one of the Banes of my existence. Since adolescence, I have far preferred the music of deceased Europeans to anything save the GD, but I have never come to terms with the social conventions that entomb the music. On the personal level, I have always embraced the countercultural sensibility, and I have a fairly violent negative reaction to the ideas of "fastidious formal presentation" that enshroud orchestral concerts and instrumental recitals.

In college as a music student, the cultural gulf between myself and the majority of my fellow students was huge. What it made it somewhat amusing was that I was much more passionate and knowledgeable about classical music, especially analytical theory, than my more straitlaced peers. (I was, however, less technically skilled as a performer, and in the bottom quartile in terms of "innate musicality" in matters such as perfect pitch or ability to sight-sing.)

It was sort of a running joke - I was the only guy in the music theory and music history classes who could already write in correct four part counterpoint and could rattle off from memory the chronology of all of Schumann's solo piano works, but I was also the only freak wearing ragged clothes who hadn't had a haircut in over a decade.

I found the formality and conventionality and obedience to authority within the cultural world of classical music to be fundamentally at odds with my own personality, and as a result, I abandoned my hopes of a professional career in the field. I'm still bitter about it, because I believe the actual content of classical music is antithetical to its cultural box.

In life, I've never resolved the paradox. I spend all my time studying modern physics, classical music, computer programming, analytic philosophy - but on the personal level, I am not socially comfortable in the straitlaced environments of the academic study of science and mathematics or classical performance. The people I get along with personally are always socially marginalized nonconformists who are rarely educated about or even interested in the same topics as myself.

Posting here, I feel a lot more comfortable than usual, but I'm still always worried that my love for contextualizing the GD within the European art-music tradition and using a lot of music theoretical vocabulary makes me seem like I'm cloaking my opinions with the socially privileged High Art status of classical music. I feel personally conflicted about it, because I can't rely deny that I do believe that classical music is "greater" than most contemporary popular music, and that one of the reasons the Grateful Dead is the greatest rock band of all time is that their music is founded upon some of the same principles and techniques as composers like Ives and many others.

The bottom line is that orchestra concerts should be more like Grateful Dead concerts, because there is nothing dry and formal about the content of the music - it only seems that way because of the presentation.

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Aug 11, 2011 9:01am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: High Art

I think the 19th century in particular (and the past in general) is horribly misunderstood – straight-jacketed, really. Young people were often criticized in popular magazines for going to the opera too much. (It was seen as part of disreputable "craving for excitement.") I’ve heard from my parents about coal miners and Italian laborers and Polish butchers playing classical music and singing opera arias ... so it clearly wasn't inaccessable or all about stuffy "church manners." And the stereotype of a musician or composer seemed to have been very bohemian and rather suspect -- the guys you don't want around your daughters. Of course, all that has been lost and marble-ized.

Btw, and I doubt very much that anyone who has ever read an interview with Phil would think you can’t be obsessed with classical music and be into the Dead, LOL. I think even the others make the occasional classical reference in interviews. Though I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything from Pigpen in that vein ... come to think of it, ARE there Pigpen interviews?

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 11, 2011 9:18am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: the 1840s make the 1960s look like the 1720s

Indeed, AR, when we study the career of Franz Liszt (who was one of many virtuosos who established the template of the "rock star" as combining libertine sensualism with quasi-religious fervor) or read about the revolutionary struggles of the 1840s in Europe, all stereotypes of "stuffiness" vanish, and are replaced by the red blood of human passions. The 19th century is actually the Romantic era in music, and to my ears, the best composers captured emotional intensity much more clearly in their music than the musical language of today.

I'm also interested in whether or not Pig was ever interviewed. I don't recall ever hearing of such a thing!

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 11, 2011 10:27am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: High Art

Pigpen WAS interviewed a couple times! - by Creem magazine in 1970, and by Hank Harrison for his book. I have not seen them, though. It's a reminder that MOST Dead history is still buried away in libraries or collections, and is relatively inaccessible to most people - I can only draw on the sliver that's been republished.

Weir has talked the most about his interest in classical music, which seems to be just as direct as Phil's. Offhand I don't remember Garcia ever talking about it.

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Poster: snow_and_rain Date: Aug 11, 2011 11:26am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Pigpen

He took part in this humorous 1966 interview..

http://www.angelfire.com/fl/goodbear/interview66.html

Starts like this:

DJ: ... Around the, uh, table we’ll go, meet first Pigpen. What a horrible name.

Pigpen: Not my fault, Jerry gave it to me.

DJ: What’s your real name?

Pigpen: Ron.

DJ: Ron? Uh, your fan club yesterday or something was telling me you’re 21 years old...

Pigpen: Um-hm.

DJ: You look like 38... what happened, I know.

Pigpen: Umm... couldn’t tell ya.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 11, 2011 11:44am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Pigpen

Oh yes, thanks. Not much of an "interview" really, but I guess as good as we can expect from 1966!

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Poster: ringolevio Date: Aug 11, 2011 6:53pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: High Art

This is really fascinating - I always kind of wondered if there weren't people who felt like you do ... now I know! I always look at concert performers and vaguely think, good thing I'm not musical, performing must be pretty cool but DAMN those are very uncomfortable clothes and what is all this bowing and scraping?! It's totally fascinating to imagine that maybe it doesn't need to be that way - that classical music could be combined with a countercultural ... culture! You need to start a revolution! Yeah, why aren't we allowed to dance and smoke and what-not at the orchestra?!

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Poster: Dudley Dead Date: Aug 11, 2011 9:59am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: High Art

I got a kick out of your college expereice . When I took Music History, I found I was more into it than the music majors were ( I was a history major ). It was definetely the " how did this hippie get in here " sort of thing, and they were not too friendly ! I ended up in retail, selling music . I think you might enjoy this look at when I was still in the battle .
http://artsblog.ocregister.com/2006/10/25/so-long-charlie-goodbye-tower/559/

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Aug 11, 2011 7:55pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: High Art

That's great. Thanks for sharing that.

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 11, 2011 10:45am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: High Art

Totally awesome, thanks for sharing that. It really hits home for me, because the downtown record store in my hometown had an amazing "Classical basement" run by a very distinctive and eccentric music lover. I really miss it now that its gone. Thanks for all the great work done by you and people like you to help people like me discover great music.

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Poster: jerlouvis Date: Aug 10, 2011 10:41pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Ives Touch, Part II

Once again LIA you have delivered such an information dense,interestingly presented piece on a very difficult subject to capture,and then take it another step and tie it into the music of the GD.It will take me at least one more reading to cull some of the major points brought forth,but it was just so packed with interesting stuff.Over the last few weeks I have been listening to some composers suggested by bkidwll,Lygeti,Boulez,Shoenberg and I stumbled across Elliot Carter,Varese and Charles Ives.I listenened to a performance of the 4th symphony by Michael Tilson Thomas and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on youtube.There is just so much going on it is almost overwhelming,I sat back and said to myself it would take an awful lot of dedicated listening to just get a toehold on what is happening with this guy,and now you put out this flood of info making it even more appealing.Damn you LIA,I have my hands full just trying to figure out this GD stuff,and you and your buddy bkidwell have to dangle the classical carrot.